By Deepu Sivadas, Lead, IUCN CEM Young Professionals Network.
World Environment Day 2021 is celebrated with the theme “Ecosystem Restoration”. Restoration is key to the prosperity and well-being of people. It has been said that restoring about 15% of ecosystems in priority areas can cut the extinction by 60 per cent1.
The recently launched UNEP synthesis report to launch the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration says, “one-third of the world’s farmland is degraded, about 87 per cent of inland wetlands worldwide have disappeared since 1700, and one-third of commercial fish species are overexploited. Degradation is already affecting the well-being of an estimated 3.2 billion people –40 per cent of the world’s population. Every single year, we lose ecosystem services worth more than 10 per cent of our global economic output”.
Human activities have caused serious damage to the blue carbon ecosystems (mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrass), reducing their sequestration capacities. Humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services is currently exceeding what Earth can regenerate in a year. As per the Global Footprint Network, we currently use nature 1.75 times as fast as the planet’s ecosystems can regenerate. The balance of ecosystems is very delicate. Human activities leading to pollution, climate change, land clearing, resource exploitation, and population decline of other species lead to the destruction of this balance.
We may utilise the gifts of NATURE just as we choose, but in her books, the debits are always equal to the creditsMahatma Gandhi
The impact of single species on the environment has reached the extent that the existence of the same species is now under question. Now the devotion of resources for restoration has become much important for the recovery of the ecosystems for the economy, food security, clean water, health and well being, climate change mitigation and adaptation, security, and biodiversity. Ecosystem services are complex and interrelated; they are subject to non-linear levels of change and deprivation at regional levels. Often categorised as (1) provisioning services, (2) regulating services, (3) cultural services, and (4) supporting services (IPCC 2014; MA, 2005), these services support various facets of human well-being.
We should really think about what went wrong, and the answer is that it all started when modern life got disconnected from nature, and as we didn’t admire the dynamics of nature. We should own the responsibility for what we had done and not be idle imagining that nature will heal itself. Researchers suggest that it is from the 1950s that we got disconnected from nature. We benefit more when we are more connected to nature, and disconnection is bad for our well-being and the environment.
We could very well accord that the issues faced by people in some territories instigated from the exploitation of the natural resources, initially in the colonial period and then by the enterprises. Jane Goodall, a British Primatologist, once said, “Man’s relationship with nature has gone; We have just been stealing, stealing, stealing from our children, and it’s shocking. But is it true that there is nothing that can be done? No, absolutely not”. It is when the human interference with nature exceeded its thresholds of tolerance, affecting its robustness, it increased exposure to zoonotics, causing several infectious diseases, which had become epidemics and pandemics. When the world moved into a lockdown last year, in the beginning, there was a misperception that nature is getting a break, but later we could see that it was not the case, and there were increased cases of deforestation, illegal mining etc.
The climate crisis we are now into is altering the rate of spread of several diseases, and reports predict that the rising global temperature will alter the timing, distribution, and severity of future disease outbreaks. Seventy-five per cent of all infectious diseases over the last three decades originated in animals. Environment health will affect the health of animals and human, and here comes the importance of the ‘One Health’ concept. This acknowledges the interdependence of human and natural systems.
As the UNESCO report says “The knowledge of indigenous peoples is not a static body of ‘traditional‘ information. Indigenous peoples have always been confronted with environmental variability, unpredictability, and change. Thus, their knowledge is a dynamic system that is collectively and continuously re-visited, re-shaped, and shared across a web of social actors. It maintains its adaptive capacity and vitality”. They are often well-positioned to observe and understand the changes in local ecosystems, and we should acknowledge the importance of including indigenous and local knowledge in its assessments of biodiversity. Some conservation philosophies believe that people should be excluded if an environment has to be conserved. Such separation is not an effective solution as this relationship shapes and sustains each other. Indigenous knowledge systems have their logic and better not always try to validate them scientifically, and we should embrace them. The loss of local and indigenous knowledge is likely to critically threaten effective conservation of biodiversity, particularly in community-based conservation local efforts2.
If we really want to achieve #generationrestoration, we should have a ‘Glocal’ approach (Global + Local). We should have global goals and targets, but our actions should address the local differences. ‘People-centred conservation approach’ should be avoided, and a more holistic ‘Ecosystem approach’ should be adopted. The success of all programmes depends on their sustainability. We should have an intergenerational approach. For a green and safe future, young people have enormous potential to contribute to conservation and restoration. To succeed in the large scale ecosystem restoration for saving the planet, we cannot leave anyone behind; all demographics of people should be involved. There are solutions for our problems, but it all depends on how open is our mind and how we approach the problem. It is our ‘common future’ and should have shared perceptions of long-term environmental issues. We need greater co-operation, not globalisation, and coordinated political action and responsibility and not isolation. We need social changes, or we risk undermining our children’s fundamental right to a healthy, life-enhancing environment. What we are enjoying today is not granted to us; it is something we had borrowed from generations to come and should safeguard the interests of coming generations.
Dr Deepu Sivadas is currently doing his Post Doctoral Research at Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, India.